Archive for the ‘2009 – Journal for Plague Lovers’ Category

I’d love to go to sleep and wake up happy

Is it too easy to interpret this as Richey’s goodbye message? I mean it’s so easy to do that that you kinda start thinking that it’s definitely nothing like that because it would be waaay too easy to draw the parallels. Plus, you know, there’s the whole William thing (whoever that is), the fact that the original lyric before the edit read almost like a short story and that Wire insists it’s not Richey’s farewell letter. Nonetheless, regardless whether or not it is Richey writing as himself, it sure makes a great closing statement to an album that is essentially a tribute to him. The final words, whoever’s they are. And we all know we’re all thinking about it anyway, no matter how much we try to reason it’s not the case.

After an album full of melancholic acoustic laments and energetic, tongue-in-cheek upbeat rock songs, William’s Last Words surprises with its complete change of pace. It’s calm and tranquil. It floats softly and peacefully, strings beautifully weaving a heartwarmingly sweet pattern over a soft little pop rock backing. It sounds amazing and is a great, calm bookend to the album (well, outside the hidden track that comes and spoils the mood).

However, it’s not only the words and the music that gives the emotional resonance, it’s the singing. James takes the backseat and hands the lead vocal duties to Wire. Wire’s singing has always been very rough and very pronounced, but on William’s Last Words he takes a very, very hushed tone. It’s almost emotionlessly calm but the more you listen to it, the more it is mournfully calm. Unable to speak in anything but a soft, quiet tone because of the emotional resonance the singer himself is feeling. Whether or not it’s just a stylistic quirk or Wire genuinely fought back tears as he recorded his lines is unknown but whatever the case, it truly gives the song a gigantic emotional impact.

In the end William’s Last Words is a final goodbye lyrically. The positive, soft atmosphere isn’t really happiness. It’s a wish to leave with a smile on your face while relishing the final moment you spend with your loved ones, trying to tell them to keep the chin up and not to cry.

If there’s anything to fault in the otherwise brilliant tearjerker, it’s that the absolutely amazing and sudden James backing vocal cameo doesn’t get a reprise. The additional voice, singing in a more melodic harmony under Wire’s shackled voice is a huge impact force and should have got more than one airing. But at the same time, it’s sudden appearance stays special because of it’s one-time airing.

I think this is my favourite track on the album, actually.

The organ that appears on the demo instead of the strings is quite lovely. Not as lovely as the strings but definitely a nice little touch.

As an amusing coincidence, the Underworld remix on the Journal for Plague Lovers remix album turns out to be the best track of the remix project just like the original reigns supreme over the rest of its parent album. The remix has the similar serene beauty as the original, even starts with birdsong and all, but instead of sounding teary-eyed and bittersweet it’s straightforwardly upbeat and jubilant. Nicky is backed up by a female choir as the song starts as an atmospheric near-ambient workout, before halfway through it the instruments kick in and turn the song into one of those brilliant endless singalong finales, making the sad goodbye a joyful, celebratory farewell. It’s downright brilliant and one of the few truly essential remixes in the Manics catalogue.


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Today the doctors allow the illusion of choice

I’m not sure anyone expected a song with that name or the lyrics we were given beforehand, including the already-then-infamous “pig pig piggy” chorus, to be so damn giddy and upbeat.

Virginia State Epileptic Colony is pure upbeat jangle pop. It’s even downright goofy and tongue-in-cheek. As if to contrast the lyric completely, the band has decided to just take the piss out of its seriousness and turn it into a silly little torchsong. And suddenly the “pig pig piggy!” line is pure hilarity, especially when followed by the ridiculously hooky “V-S-E-C” spelling bee lesson. And check out that ridiculously awesome keyboard interlude, plinky-plonky piano frolicking happily alongside the jangly rock backing.

I was already dooming the song beforehand when I first got to read the rather atrocious lyrics but turns out Virginia State is the album’s surprise hit. Sheer brilliance. Would have made an amazing single if the album had those.

The less we talk about the Fuck Buttons remix, the better. Way to ruin one of the best songs on the album by turning it into an overlong mash of random bits and bobs and miscallenous metallic sounds that have seemingly nothing to do with the original. Tripe.

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Jealously sows rejection with a kiss

The aching heart of Journal for Plague Lovers shows itself.

Everything starts very subtly, very calmly. Just James and his trusted acoustic guitar, a combo that has brought us many beautiful songs (as well as some forgettable b-sides). Despite its goofy name, This Joke Sport Severed would seem to continue this line.

And then the strings hit. My god do the strings hit.

Journal for Plague Lovers in general has some of the most stylish string sections in the whole Manic history. This time, instead of just being a higher pitch organ replacement, the strings are majestic, vibrant, living with the music. Elegant. The song gets going in general – Sean’s drum pattern here is brilliant – but it’s that hair-raisingly beautiful string section that really makes the song. And the moment when they really explode into the scene in the half-way instrumental break is one of the most beautiful Manics moments.

At three minutes This Joke Sport Severed is over painfully quickly but not because it finished too early – you’re simply left wanting more of the mournful elegance.

The demo for this song replaces the strings with a delicate piano. Doesn’t sounds as epic, but has a definite delicate beauty to it. Otherwise it’s quite an identical version.

The Patrick Wolf remix is Just as dramatic and epic as you would expect from a Patrick Wolf remix that’s titled ‘Love Letter to Richey remix’. It’s actually practically a cover rather than a remix, with Wolf taking care of all the vocal duties himself. The strings of the original version and the piano of the demo version create beauty in the background while hand-clappy beats drive the music forwards. It’s a mixture of elegant and groovy. The otherwise very cool remix is somewhat ruined by the end as the traditional Manicsian mood-breaking rockout finale cockup makes its remix debut.

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Burdened and gathered, agonised and locked

Well there’s certainly pretension involved when looking at the lyrics, though I can’t say they’re so cringy that you’d feel repulsed. Still pretty… uhhh. Richey’s style and my taste just do not agree. But it’s an intriguing read anyway, just a list of abusive words.

Pretension/Repulsion is the shortest song on its parent album and it’s one of those moments that just flash by quickly, a small bite-size interlude disguised as a proper song. Starts almost R.E.M.-like with a very Peterbuckesque guitar jangle opening the song before Sean’s snare-rolling loving drums kick in. The chorus breaks the relative tranquility of a verse with Rocking Manics Chorus ™ and it’s cool. It’s a nifty chorus, Journal for Plague Lovers in general has some really good choruses so this isn’t an exception.

But Pretension/Repulsion just can’t shake away the fact that at two minutes and four seconds it’s finished almost as soon as it’s started and it just fails to leave much impression while in the album context. Sure, I can see that it’s a good track now that I’m listening to it outside its place as track 11 on Journal for Plague Lovers, but on the album it just breezes by and fails to leave much impression afterwards. I’ve got nowt against short songs in itself but Pretension/Repulsion suffers from the fact that it never really develops, it just comes and goes quickly.

As an additional little detail, the chorus’ vocal melody is very different in the demo. The low-sung, calm melody completely clashes with the music but in doing so it ends up being better than the final version. Something quirkily enchanting in it.

The Four/Tet remix is one of the better works in the Journal for Plague Lovers remix project. The first half is intriguingly chaotic with the endless instrumental loops and merged vocal clips, but then the song subtly and slowly morphs into something that’s wonderfully relaxing and atmospheric. Everything’s augmented with calm, beautiful keyboard twinkles. The cunning transition is rather cool.

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She’d walk on broken glass for love

Anyone else think the start of this song sounds almost exactly like R.E.M.’s Begin the Begin?

At barely over two minutes, She Bathed Herself is one of the briefest moments of Journal for Plague Lovers. Unlike its name which goes beyond ‘dark’ all the way to ‘rather daftly melodramatic’, it’s not musically very grim at all. Sure, the Begintobeginesque pounding call-to-arms start might sound a bit serious but it’s not exactly evil. Moreso, well, like a roll call anthem. Then at the chorus it turns into something we rarely get to hear Manics witness but which works wonderfully: a proper bouncing-up-and-down-wildly shoutalong rock stomper, tailor-made for crushing innocent people at your feet on the front row of a gig or going daft in your bedroom, jumping along to the stomping, dumb-fun guitar rock.

It’s not the most ingenius thing in the world but that’s the point really. It’s just big dumb fun. With a bit more different lyrics than this sort of stuff usually.

Half of this was written by Nicky and according to the Nicky-sung demo on the limited edition bonus disc he’s behind the verses as the choruses on the demo are completely different. No jumpyshouty rock fun, but delicate, fragile melodic strumming that wouldn’t be out of place on Nicky’s solo album. Coupled with the fact that the demo’s only played with an acoustic guitar, it’s like a whole different song. Definitely one of the biggest points of intrigue on the demo bonus disc that comes with the limited edition of the album.

The Pariahs remix replaces the bouncy rock with some electronic cool, turning the song into something you could call synth-rock. It’s a pretty straightforward sound alteration remix, everything else is left intact. Enjoyable, even if not brilliant.

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Give him some dignity

The Manics have never been afraid of using drum machines – outside the obvious examples like You Stole the Sun from My Heart and Automatik Teknicolour, the whole of Generation Terrorists’ drums were programmed because of budget restrictions. As such, it’s not necessarily surprising that they’d use them again. Marlon J.D. differs quite a bit from the past uses – they’re obviously synthesized unlike the GT drums which tried to imitate real ones (weakly, but still), but unlike the other cases where the drum machine’s simply amplified the real drum kit, Marlon J.D.’s ta-ta-tsush-ta-ta-ta-tsush beat dominates the song’s rhythm section.

At first it’s even slightly awkward. Marlon J.D. is a very high-speed, pumped-up post-punkish rock song that is pretty much the most aggressive of the whole bunch on Journal for Plague Lovers. But the drum machine of the intro never disappears, continuing to beat without a live drum section even as James begins his guitar soars and vocal delivery that’s oddly detached from the rest of the song’s melody. A song that sounds like a real goer doesn’t end up being one because the soft synthetic beat keeps it in chains – in an intriguing way, rather than bothersome way. It gives the song a weird edge.

Until the real drum section pops up and the chains break down. The verses throughout the song belong to the machine but as the song launches into the chorus they make way to Sean’s storming drum section, relentlessly pushing on with the great force that goes together with the rest of the song. The sudden push in intensity sounds fantastic.

Marlon J.D.’s one of my favourite songs on Journal simply because of the chorus. The additional rise in the song’s strength, the beat, the storming energy, the simple but oh so effective lyrical and vocal hook. Excellence. The fact that the verses are peppered with such a great vocal melody and sound plain intriguing is a plus.

Nicky wrote the music for this fully, which is a rather surprising reveal. The demo on the special edition of the album is also sung by the man. Gotta say, James’ performance really gives the song its edge, Nicky’s version is simply doesn’t have James’ oddball fixated tone that the album version’s got.

As to what the ‘JD’ means on the title, not even the band knows.

Regarding the NYPC remix of the song, I find it rather cool how they’ve taken some of the solo-Nicky vocals from the original demo. That’s about the only interesting thing in the otherwise rather stale, vaguely post-punky remix.

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You cover illness with flowers and flowers die

Bag Lady’s a good track. I can’t deny that. It’s the most The Holy Bible-esque song on Journal. Jagged, stabby guitar lines, JDB’s aggressive vocal tone, dark and frustrated mood, etc, even if the chorus is much more modern Manics kind of stuff. That’s also probably a reason why it’s the hidden track on Journal for Plague Lovers – the only moment on the album that’s genuinely like The Holy Bible, an album where Journal would constantly be compared to, is hidden away rather than showcased openly. And hey, it’s nice that they finally have a hidden track that’s actually a song of their own rather than a cover.

But it’s just in the completely wrong place. William’s Last Words finishes the album in a very heartstring-tugging, calm and beautiful way and that would have been the perfect closure statement for Journal. Instead, the actual closing track proper ends up being Bag Lady, a song that not only doesn’t fit at all as any sort of a closing track but also completely wrecks the mood that William left behind.

Sod you, Bag Lady. I can’t hate you but dammit, you’re stuck somewhere you don’t belong.

The Jonathan Krisp remix completely changes the track, nary a trace from the guitar fury of the original is audible on the upbeatingly hopping and popping electro treatment. The chorus vocals pop up here and there and sure there’s some guitar sample, but otherwise it’s something completely different. And it’s something quite cool too. Not amazing by any means but there’s something very cool in its insanely busy soundworld, madly jumping with little beats and squeaky synths. Would make a really good song, even if not one belonging to the Manics catalogue, in its own right.

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